Kanye Mad: CMJ Stealing His Press
Hot Chip: better than they look
I'll probably never go see Beach House again because it's tough to imagine ever again having a set of circumstances as perfect as the one yesterday afternoon at Sound Fix. Late afternoon twilight, dusty coffee shop, comfortable couch, dinky sound system with bass levels up high enough to give the floorboards a womblike vibration, another long night just starting off: it's like the Baltimore duo's drowned-in-reverb slowcore was engineered specifically for that one place at that one time. As on the band's self-titled slow-burner debut, which I'll probably spend the rest of the winter playing while I fall asleep, everything sounded like it was coming from some half-rememberd underwater dream. Even the barely-there drum-machine clicks come out warm and muffled, and Alex Scally's slide guitar gave their songs a sort of floating otherworldy melodicism. They only played for maybe a half-hour, but they could've kept playing forever, and I would've sat there and soaked it in while the whole CMJ circus spun away on the other side of the river.
Back in Manhattan again, the Fader Lounge wasn't a lounge so much as a dirty storefront with dirty tile floors and Red Stripe banners and back-issues of the namesake magazine lying on every available surface. I can't imagine any singer-songwriter making much of an impact here; there's too much high-concentration schmoozing happening for any sensitive soul to register. But Swedish howler Frida Hyvonen's plonky-screechy histrionics were especially galling after the sleepy murmurs of Beach House; they cut through conversations like they were cutting glass. Someone really needs to buy this girl an effects pedal, stat. Until then, she should maybe consider taking a long, hard look at the lucrative international bird-call-competition circuit.
Over at Webster Hall's DFA showcase, Shy Child showed the world what happens when noise-rock dudes discover disco and synthpop but can't quite figure out how to absorb bells and whistles into their spazzcore, though a couple of nifty cowbell breakdowns showed that they're at least learning. Mostly, though, the drums-and-keytaur duo came off like a less desperate Death From Above 1979, not exactly what the world needs. Their set's big highlight came on the last song, when the presence of a saxophone player blowing screaming Middle Eastern countermelodies forced the duo to stop fucking around and lay down an actual groove. If they're smart, they'll hire this guy full-time. Half an hour later, Gang Gang Dance showed the same crowd what happens when noise-rock people discover disco and figure out exactly how to combine it with their chirps and twitters into a swooping, gorgeous waterfall of bliss, but Zach Baron can tell you all about that whenever he gets his post up. (Edit: it's up.)
But the night's big surprise was the British synth-funk group Hot Chip, the night's headliner. I'd spun the band's The Warning a couple of times, but beyond a few ill-advised stabs at faux-loverman lyrical irony, it all sounded a bit too polite to stick. Onstage, though, the band has beefed up its lineup to seven dudes, one of whom I'm told is the percussionist guy from Liquid Liquid. Especially for the lightshow-happy Webster Hall, the show didn't have much of a visual element; all seven dudes were goofily nondescript beyond their gallingly ugly clothes, and at least four of them seemed to be parked behind synthesizers at any given time except during their massive percussive breakdowns, when everyone would grap congas or cowbells and go nuts. But those increased numbers meant a much more full-bodied thump, which means everything when you're dealing with ravey synth-flutters and Latin-funk drum-freakouts and smeary disco drum-pulses. All that lyrical archness was still there, but it never got in the way of the music's joyous sweep or the vocals' yearning melancholy. There's precedent for that; ask the Pet Shop Boys. When Hot Chip squeezed the chorus hook from New Order's "Regret" into one late-set banger, it felt like a revelation, like the band was telling you exactly what heights it had just achieved. And then they played "Over and Over," and the crowd melted.
Voice review: Mike Powell on Hot Chip's The Warning
I knew Todd P's guerilla counterprogramming jam way over the river in Brooklyn wasn't going to bring anything quite so crowd-pleasing or life-affirming, but it was still an impressive throwdown: the L-shaped third floor of a Bushwick warehouse, freezing cold and missing windowpanes, split up Warped Tour-style into two stages so one band could set up while another played. I walked in on Aa (or, if you prefer, Big A Little A), a local quartet of three drummers and one guy who played keyboards and sometimes made awful screeching mouth-noises. They were going for Boredoms territory, a goal lofty enough that they'll probably never get there. But they worked up moments of apocalyptic gradeur more often than anyone could've expected, and they're named after my favorite Crass song, so I liked them. I didn't much like Dragons of Zynth, whose ugly, spastic decayed-blues lurch sent me fleeing to the back to check my text messages. Japanese power-trio Green Milk from the Planet Orange swung maniacally from gibbering spaz-metal to slow, majestic instrumental buildups and back again, keeping their monolithic bass-roar intact all the while, even when their drummer was playing hummingbird-fast and you couldn't even see his sticks. I was a little disappointed with all the noise kids when next-Hollertronix DJ duo Flosstradamus faded Crystal Waters' "100% Pure Love" into Justin Timberlake's "My Love" to a heaping pile of indifference, but it was pretty late by then. Then again, all those same kids went fucking nuts for uber-hyper Brooklyn drums-and-keys indie-poppers Matt and Kim, who sound like Mates of State after mainlining Pixie Stix and who, improbably enough, incited the first mosh-pit I've seen since CMJ jumped off. Not even halfway into their fifteen-minute set, Todd had to grab the mic and tell the kids to stay away from the precarious stacks of speakers: "If they fall on you, you'll die." On the way back down the stairs, I had to wait for four dudes to carry down their drunk friend, who apparently was too wasted to walk.
Voice feature: Courtney Harding on Matt and Kim
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